a/k/a Black (or Brown) Cows — Perfect for Summer Holidays
OK, we’re basically talking ice cream sodas here. Black Cows (Root Beer Floats) are usually made with root beer and vanilla ice cream. But change the soda to cola or orange, and the ice cream to chocolate or something else, and you’ve got same concept, different flavor.
You probably don’t need a recipe for this dish. Still, I bet it’s been awhile since you’ve had one.
Remember how good it was? With Memorial Day coming up this weekend, maybe it’s time to lay in some root beer and ice cream — and brush up on your float-making skills.
Recipe: Root Beer Floats
When I was growing up, Black Cows were always the dessert for the big summer holidays — Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day. Which makes sense, because they’re particularly appealing when the weather is hot.
Black Cows taste best made with a full-flavored vanilla ice cream and robust, sugared root beer. Yes, I know how many calories are in sugared soft drinks. But there is a flavor difference. I rarely consume soda, and when I do, I usually opt for diet. But with Black Cows? I want the full flavor of the real thing. Besides, these are an occasional treat.
Use tall glasses or voluminous mugs to serve your Black Cows. They are easiest to consume if you provide a drinking straw and long-handled spoon (like an iced tea spoon). This recipe serves 4, and takes about 5 minutes to prepare. You can easily adjust quantities to serve more or fewer people.
- 1 quart vanilla ice cream (less if you prefer; see Notes)
- 4 bottles of chilled root beer (see Notes)
- whipped cream for garnish (optional but nice)
- maraschino cherry for garnish (optional but nice)
- Scoop about a cup of ice cream into a tall glass or mug.
- Fill glass with root beer. You usually have to do this in stages, so that the foam from the root beer has time to diminish. If you have root beer left in the bottle (you usually will), serve the remainder with the Black Cow (this can be added to the float as it is consumed).
- Garnish if you like with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry.
- Serve with a straw and a long-handled spoon.
- You might want to put out the ingredients and just let everyone assemble this float on their own — it’s the fastest, easiest way.
- A cup of ice cream is a pretty hefty serving. You may wish to reduce this somewhat, but occasionally it’s nice to overindulge.
- Same deal with the root beer — a full 12 ounces is more than you really need, but a bit extra is nice.
- There are some terrific boutique root beers out there. But in this recipe, their flavor just gets lost in the ice cream. So I would suggest using whatever mass-market brand you happen to like best. I generally use A&W. Although it isn’t as deeply flavored as some (and is a bit sweet), it’s the root beer of my youth.
- Regional names for Root Beer Floats vary. In most places, “Black Cow” means vanilla ice cream and root beer. But in some locales, this float is a “Brown Cow.” In yet other places, chocolate ice cream replaces vanilla in a Brown Cow.
- And in a few other areas, only “Root Beer Floats” contain root beer. “Black Cows” and “Brown Cows” are made with cola.
- Other popular soda flavors for ice cream floats include ginger age, orange, 7-Up, Dr. Pepper, and grape. And probably about anything else you can imagine.
- Originally, ice cream sodas were made with plain soda water (seltzer); syrup was added as flavoring. Indeed, today when you order a Chocolate Ice Cream Soda, what you may receive is chocolate syrup, vanilla ice cream, and plain soda — topped with whipped cream and a cherry.
- Soda water was once sold primarily by pharmacies (which is one reason they used to have soda fountains). A glass of plain, unflavored fizzy water was “2 cents plain” in days of yore.
- Why pharmacies? Because soda water was considered a high-powered cure that required regulation (like alcohol). Many areas that banned the sale of alcohol on Sundays adopted the same rule for soda water. So no ice cream sodas on Sundays!
- Pharmacies adapted by serving ice cream (that’s food, right?) with whipped cream, a maraschino cherry, maybe some chopped nuts — and no soda. Which they called the ice cream sundae (because it was designed to be sold on Sunday).
- Or at least that’s what Wikipedia suggests. Other sources dispute this story. But it does seem that, back in the day, many older folks got upset when “craven youth” gathered to slurp down that fizzy water in ice cream sodas.
- No one really knows who invented the ice cream soda. It may have been Robert M. Green, who served them during the 1874 sesquicentennial celebration in Philadelphia. But many others claimed to have originated it, including Fred Sanders, Philip Mohr, and George Guy. Whoever it was, he has our thanks.
- Although the basic Black Cow is suitable for all ages, there are also alcoholic versions. Some people add a touch of bourbon. Others make a seriously alcoholic drink, generally using some combination of Coca-Cola, Kahlua, half-and-half, and maybe Galliano. I enjoy an alcoholic beverage from time to time, but I’ll pass on all of these.
Summer Is (Almost) Here!
“What a great dessert!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs as she polished off her Black Cow.
“A nice segue to the warm weather months,” I agreed.
“Speaking of which, what’s on tap for the blog this summer?”
Funny she should ask.
For most of us, summer means a more casual lifestyle, with plenty of picnics, cookouts, and other outdoor activities. Maybe some long weekends! And when the living is easy, we sometimes want a nice cool drink to savor.
So starting next week, we’ll be inaugurating the Summer Sippin’ Series here on Kitchen Riffs. We’ll kick it off with a post on Cocktail Basics, covering the hows and whys of mixing drinks. Later that week we’ll do a post about one of today’s most popular cocktails, the Mojito. Then each week through Labor Day, we’ll feature a different drink (though we’ll also still have lots of food-only posts).
We’ll highlight several of the tall cool ones we typically associate with warm weather. And we’ll do some Tiki drinks — complete with little umbrellas.
“Tiki drinks!” exclaimed Mrs K R. “I can’t wait!”
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